By Jake Donovan
It was a little more than half a lifetime ago for Steve Cunningham when he first enlisted for the United States Navy. The Philadelphian was still a year or so away from his official introduction to the world of boxing, but by then had already gained a nickname that would stick throughout his adult life.
Nearly two decades and two cruiserweight title reigns later, Cunningham still proudly serves his country, albeit in a far different way. The always-chiseled American flies the nation’s flag once again as he prepares for an April 20 showdown with unbeaten Tyson Fury of the United Kingdom.
The bout takes place at The Theatre at Madison Square Garden in New York City, to air live on NBC.
“I’ve represented this flag in numerous ways,” Cunningham (25-5, 12KO) explained of his affinity for all things red, white and blue. “Four years in the United States Navy where I started boxing, traveling the world fighting in Germany, Poland… I’ve always represented this flag and I’m going to represent this flag again on April 20 at the Garden, in New York, basically the capital of the world.”
It’s commonplace for Cunningham – a career cruiserweight who has only recently moved up to test the heavyweight waters – to represent his country against an assortment of international flavor. Road trips to Europe highlighted his title reigns, as well as enduring passionate Polish crowds for each of his two showdowns with Tomasz Adamek.
The irony in Cunningham’s patriotism is that his career is often viewed as that of a man without a country. The frequent fights on the road came about due to the American never developing into much of a draw in the United States, forced to fight where the money was at.
Cunningham gets the best of both worlds, securing a rewarding showdown with Fury and on American soil. Then again, the same was thought to be the case when he faced Adamek in their rematch last December in Bethlehem (PA), only to land on the wrong end of a horribly scored split decision in favor of the Pol.
Still, a win over Fury means moving one step closer towards a shot at a heavyweight title. The same terms are at stake as when he faced Adamek – fighting for the right to challenge Kubrat Pulev in a final title eliminator. Adamek was given that choice after the gift decision over Cunningham but opted to take his career in a different direction.
The easy way out was never an option Cunningham has considered at any point in his career. He was ready to face Fury the moment the fight was offered. The fact that the opportunity comes because nobody else wants it is an added bonus.
“I was excited when they gave me this fight. A lot of guys turned down this fight, so I was excited (when it was offered),” Cunningham admits. “A lot of the guys don’t want to get in the ring with a giant, a literal giant. This guy is huge.
“I’m a fighter, that’s what I do. I grew up in Philly. There was the threat of getting shot just going to school. I have no fear of losing. I’m still going to work my butt off in the gym. I have no fear.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox